Passion Project: Delicious Pizzas from A Decent Slice
Maybe it’s my age, but I don’t always notice messages sent my way on social media. In February, though, I happened to see a comment on The Charlottesville 29 Instagram page from an account called @adecentslice. What caught my eye, I expect, is that it offered to bring me beer from Maine Beer Co., one of my favorite breweries in the world. I accepted, and a few weeks later met the account’s owner at Beer Run. His name, I learned, is Aaron Goff, a food enthusiast with a background in science who makes a living painting homes and businesses.
While painting pays the bills, Goff’s passion is baking, especially pizza. With an interest in chemistry and microbiology, he has long been fascinated by natural fermentation, and sourdough has been an ideal way to combine it with his love of food. His aim has been to create a hybrid of his own favorite style – Neapolitan – and his wife Bailey’s favorite, NY-style. He wondered if he could combine the virtues of both, preserving what he loves about Neapolitan pies, while also creating a crust that, like his wife’s beloved NY style slice, does not flop.
A Charlottesville area resident since childhood, Goff had the benefit of a network of friends in the food industry, whose guidance has aided his pursuit. A breakthrough came in 2020, when Goff met Scott Shanesy, baker and co-owner of Belle. A disciple of renowned Sullivan Street Bakery, Shanesy invited Goff into his bakery at Belle, where he helped Goff troubleshoot his dough and achieve specific characteristics he was seeking. “It was after Scott’s help,” Goff said, “that I was able to really start making what I had envisioned, an amalgam of what my wife and I like most in our pizza.”
Goff has made a lot of pizzas in pursuit of that vision. He and Bailey eat pizza at least one day a week, often more. And, each week he gives away many more to lucky neighbors and friends. We recently invited him to make pizzas for a gathering of friends in our own neighborhood. What makes Goff’s pizza-making so mobile is the use of a Roccbox, a restaurant grade pizza oven that is so small that it is portable. Not unlike a real Neapolitan oven, a Roccbox can approach 1,000 degrees – though Goff has found that 800 degrees is the best temperature for the results he seeks.
We put ourselves completely in Goff’s hands, and asked him to make whatever he wants. He created three “dealer’s choice” varieties, making four pizzas of each. Borrowing a pizza oven from a baker friend (thanks Janey!) allowed him to serve two pizzas at a time, which we sampled throughout the evening. To wash down our pizza, one of the attendees brought some IPAs he had picked up last week, from Maine Beer Co., of all places. The pizza and beer were outstanding. Goff clearly has the talent and passion to make a living cooking pizzas, and has flirted with the idea. For now, with a baby on the way, his pizza-making remains just a passion project. Keep an eye out, though, for possible pop-ups and other projects on his Instagram page.
First up was a white pie of sliced summer squash from Bellair Farm and Radical Roots, mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, lemon, olive oil, and salt.
Third was an ode to French Onion soup, not unlike the croissant tribute at Cou Cou Rachou. Stock Provisions ham, caramelized onion, gruyere, and thyme, all joined a stock Goff made from Autumn Olive Farms pig trotters. Delicious, the crust held up under the moisture, thanks to Goff’s dough. That dough for each pie ranged from one day old to three days old, and the progression was unmistakable. Those who like just a little sourness to their crust preferred Day One dough. Those who relish a pronounced sour flavor loved Day Three.
Thanks to Goff, we enjoyed an evening of world class pizza and beer. Sure am glad I saw that Instagram comment. And, oh yeah, here’s the beer Goff gave me: